While I concede that in a review of this brevity it is difficult to sum up a book that runs to close to six hundred pages but your review of Robert Service-Trotsky is a travesty of critical writing.(1)
In the opening sentence you declare the same hostility to the subject as the author. You remark “Trotskyites who like to compare their man favourably to the murderous Stalin will probably be disappointed by this bold and balanced biography”.
As a person who opposes Stalin I must say that your cynical belittling the major political differences between Trotsky and Stalin contributes the already right wing, low level and ideologically driven Soviet historiography.
Even in short review a summation of the differences, such as the dispute over the Permanent Revolution, Socialism in a single country as opposed to international socialism to name just two would have given this review a balanced and informed look. But that is not really your objective.
As Service observes, “If ever Trotsky had been the paramount leader instead of Stalin, the risks of a bloodbath in Europe would have been drastically increased.” The above quote which you note verbatim is absurd as well as a funny. Did you even think to examine what he said? Could you explain to me what Trotsky could have done that would have been worse that the Gulags, and the murder of the entire Bolshevik cadre as well as the killing of millions of peasants and workers during the reign of Stalin. Could it really be worse than the Stalinist induced defeats of the Spanish, German and French working class to name a few which led the rise of Fascism which in turn led to the murder of six million Jews and fifty million people killed in the Second World War.
“He also notes that Trotsky’s Literature and Revolution (1923), in which writers are expected to toe the party line, prepared the way for “cultural Stalinism”. I am not expecting you to be an expert on Trotsky’s writings or for that matter the Russian Revolution., but have you read Trotsky’s writing on Literature and Culture. Like Service you seem to be under the impression that the bigger the lie the more easily it is believed. It is clear you have no comprehension of the debate over “culture” that raged inside the Bolshevik Party of which Lenin took a major interest. Trotsky opposed Stalin’s “Socialist realism” saying that it had nothing to do with Marxism. If you are interested in this debate I draw to your attention the writings of Aleksandr Voronsky in his book Art as the Cognition of Life, as a poet I am sure you will find this book rewarding.
Lastly you cannot just repeat verbatim the lies and slanders and outright distortions of Service without any independent verification. After all you are writing for the Guardian not the Sun. Even you must know that a number of your readers will be familiar with this period of history and will not accept your lazy and slapdash method of reviewing a book.
You go on “And he founded and trained the Red Army. In short, he was "no angel”. He had a “lust for dictatorship and terror”. Unfortunately my friend you cannot just state and quote Service like him you have to prove your assertions.
“He also abandoned his first wife and their two baby girls in Siberia, and later drove one of those daughters to suicide”. This slander is repeated again by you. Did you look into this? Is Service’s opinion your opinion?
David North a Leading authority on the Russian revolution had this to say on the matter “Service devotes an enormous amount of space to blackguarding Trotsky as a faithless husband who cruelly abandoned his first wife and their two children. “As a husband,” writes Service, “he [Trotsky] treated his first wife shabbily. He ignored the needs of his children especially when his political interests intervened. This had catastrophic consequences even for those who were inactive in Soviet public life—and his son Lev, who followed him into exile, possibly paid with his life for collaborating with his father.” [p. 4]
One would hardly guess, based on Service’s telling of the story, that either the oppressive conditions of Tsarist Russia or, later, the persecutions of Stalin had anything to do with the tragic fate of Trotsky’s family and loved ones. In fact, Service actually criticizes Trotsky for assigning responsibility to the Soviet regime for the death of his daughter Zina in 1933” (2)
1)Robert Service-Trotsky-Guardian Newspaper
2)David North Historians in the Service of the “Big Lie”: An Examination of Professor Robert Service’s Biography of Trotsky. www.wsws.org.